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New Head of Egypt’s Jews Rejects Israel’s Synagogue Renovation Help

"A mother of two university graduate daughters, Magda Haroun is fluent in Arabic, French, English and moderate Italian."
Magda Haroun

Magda Haroun
Photo Credit: BASSATINE NEWS

Egypt’s small Jewish community (according to estimates, less than 100 Jews altogether), is going to refuse Israeli offers of financial help for the renovation of Egypt’s ancient Jewish synagogues, Al-Ahram reported.

Magda Haroun, the new leader of Egypt’s Jewish community, told Al-Ahram that she plans to contact UN heritage organization UNESCO, instead, if she failed to find adequate funds for synagogue renovation—funds that won’t originate in Israel.

Haroun also announced that the funeral for Carmen Weinstein, the Jewish community’s former leader, would be held on Thursday at 2 PM. Weinstein died on Saturday at 84.

Magda Haroun, 61, was unanimously elected president of the Jewish Community of Cairo at an extraordinary general assembly meeting held Monday afternoon, attended by “various senior members of Cairo’s Jewish community,” according to the blog Point of no return.

Bassatine News, the journal of the Cairo Jewish community, reports (as cited by Point of no return): “Madga-Tania Chehata Haroun Silvera (Maggy to her friends) was born in Alexandria on 13 July 1952, the older of Chehata and Marcelle Haroun’s two daughters. Magda attended the Lycee Francais School in Bab El Louk, Cairo before graduating from Cairo University’s School of Applied Arts. Later, she joined the firm of Haroun & Haroun Patents/Trademarks and Legal Affairs partnering with her lawyer sister Nadia C. Haroun.

“The Haroun sisters were raised in a home where humanitarian values were sacred. Their father, Maitre Haroun (1920-2001), was a man of definite convictions and the reputed humanist and founding member of the Tagamu Party along with other leading Egyptian politicians.

“A mother of two university graduate daughters, Magda Haroun is fluent in Arabic, French, English and moderate Italian and is fond of painting and handicrafts.”

In her interview with Al Ahram, Haroun stressed that Egypt’s synagogues belonged to Egypt’s historical heritage, which extends over a very long period.

“Jewish temples are like the pyramids and the Sphinx,” she said. “They are a part of Egypt’s history that cannot be ignored.”

“The sons of this community are Egyptians. We will live forever in Egypt because religion is for God and the nation is for everybody,” Haroun said.

She expects to be the shrinking Jewish community’s last leader, and, as such, has vowed to protect Egypt’s Jewish heritage as much as possible.

AP interviewed Yoram Meital, head of the Middle East Studies Department at Ben Gurion University, who estimated that Egypt was home to 100,000 Jews when Israel was founded in 1948. By then, he says, many Egyptian Jews supported the creation of a Jewish state, though only half moved to Israel.

But Maitre Haroun, the father of Nadia and Magda, counted himself an Egyptian, not a Jewish, nationalist. In the 1940s, Haroun was a founding member of the Egyptian Communist Party and over the years was repeatedly arrested and detained. He remained a political activist until the last years of his life.

When Haroun, an outspoken critic of Israel, died in 2001 at age 82, he left instructions that no Israeli rabbi officiate at his funeral. The funeral was delayed more than a week until a rabbi could be brought in from France.

“He was convinced until he died that he was an Egyptian citizen of Jewish religion,” Magda Haroun told AP. “He believed nobody can force you to leave your country because of your religion. Many people did leave, but my father was a stubborn man.”

Good luck with the synagogue thing, and best wishes on the countdown from 100.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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One Response to “New Head of Egypt’s Jews Rejects Israel’s Synagogue Renovation Help”

  1. Jennifer Badani says:

    I can't believe what I just read.

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